Juror Objects to Confederate Monument and “Blood-Stained Banner” at Courthouse in Shreveport
By Cecelia Trenticosta
Note: Cecelia is coauthor (with Will Collins) of “Death and Dixie: How the Courthouse Confederate Flag Influences Capital Cases in Louisiana.”
The Confederate Flag flew high above a monument to the Confederacy at at the Caddo Parish Court House in Shreveport, Louisiana until years of protests by the African American community resulted in its removal in 2011. Eighteen people have been sentenced to death in the courthouse behind the monument and the flag, 14 of them black. Caddo Parish has one of the highest rates of death sentences in Louisiana.
Although the flag is gone, the monument, a towering cement memorial to the Confederate cause, remains. At the front, Clio, the muse of history, points to a book. Inscribed above her are the words:
LEST WE FORGET
A bust of a Confederate general is mounted at each corner. Stonewall Jackson stares to the north. Pierre Beauregard looks east. Henry Watkins Allen stands guard to the west. And Robert E. Lee watches south. Atop the monument stands a proud confederate soldier, holding a rifle. He is unnamed, presumably to represent everyman. Or, rather, every white man.
The flag pictured above is the Third National Flag of the Confederacy—the “blood-stained banner.” This flag was developed during the last throes of the Confederacy as a way to incorporate the battle flag (the St. Andrew’s Cross) with a red stripe running down the edge to symbolize the Confederates’ willingness to die for their cause.
The monument, erected in 1902, however, is not a part of a museum, or a freestanding monument apart from government property. Flanked by ancient live oaks, it stands as the only structure on the courthouse lawn at the Caddo Parish Courthouse. Every person summoned for jury duty, as well as every judge, clerk, employee, attorney, guard, police officer, and defendant must pass beneath the monument.
Inside the Courthouse, Caddo Parish administers Louisiana’s death penalty, its harsh felon-disenfranchisement laws, and its vast web of prosecutorial discretion.
Carl Staples, an African American native of Chicago, who moved to Shreveport in the 1970s following the race riots and had been registered to vote in Shreveport for 30 years, was summoned for jury duty at the Caddo Parish Courthouse on May 14, 2009, in the capital case of Felton Dejuan Dorsey, a poor black man accused of killing a white firefighter in a majority-white area of Caddo Parish. Knowing that the Confederate flag was atop the monument, he called the clerk’s office to state his objection to serving under it. The clerk told him that if he did not show up for jury duty, a warrant would be put out for his arrest. So he swallowed his pride and walked beneath the Confederate flag and past the monument to the Confederacy for jury selection. When called for individual examination, Staples stated:
[the flag] is a symbol of one of the most . . . heinous crimes ever committed on another member of the human race, and I just don’t see how you could say that, I mean, you’re here for justice, and then again you overlook this great injustice by continuing to fly this flag which . . put[s] salt in the wounds of . . . people of color. I don’t buy it.
The prosecutor promptly moved the court to strike Staples, arguing that he could not be fair. The judge granted the motion. The prosecutor then proceeded to strike five out of the remaining seven qualified black prospective jurors. The defense objected to the strikes as racially discriminatory in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky. The trial judge rejected the challenge. Dorsey, a black man accused of killing a white victim, was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury of eleven whites and one black.
We visited Mr. Staples at his home in the Martin Luther King area in rural Shreveport. Small children ran around squirting each other with water guns, and horses grazed in the field next door as we spoke to Mr. Staples at his front stoop. He explained his distrust of the system in no uncertain terms:
“It’s a travesty. That they can force me to serve under this flag, this symbol of the single greatest human rights violation in the history of this country . . . I thought this was America.”
Carl Staples was down the street in Chicago when the police killed Fred Hampton. He witnessed the harsh battles of the civil rights movement. After witnessing all that, “they put salt in the wound. To have to go up to that courthouse and see that flag flying there. I couldn’t lower myself to do it.” The flag and monument are a part of history, Mr. Staples acknowledged, but they should be “relegated to a museum.”
The Rachel Maddow Show aired a segment in May, 2011 on the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag, Mr. Staples’ dismissal from the jury, and the prosecution’s strikes of five black jurors.
Cecelia Trenticosta and William Collins visited Mr. Staples at his home on September 15, 2010. Cecelia is a lawyer at the Capital Appeals Project. William is the Soros Justice Fellow at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center.